Season: 8 Episode: 109
The nativity is so well recognized in our culture that it has lost its meaning. Do we truly understand the Christmas story and the events surrounding the birth of Jesus? It may surprise you to learn that the Wisemen weren’t even there when Jesus was born. Does that mean we should leave them out of the nativity? Shanda explores the answer to these questions.
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Ok, so today we are talking about the wisemen in the manger scene. I have a manger scene that we put out every Christmas and what I didn’t realize and wasn’t told when I was a kid is that the wisemen weren’t present at the birth of Jesus.
In fact, they didn’t even show up to the stable. So what do we do with that? Well, I’m not going to tell you to remove the wisemen from your manger scene. Not at all. Because they do play a role in the story of Jesus’ birth and we can learn a lot from them. This can be a great way to teach your kids about the events surrounding Jesus’ birth and a way to bring in the story of Jesus while you reflect on the nativities in your home.
So, let’s talk about a few things today:
- Who are the wisemen and what role do they play in the birth of Jesus?
- What’s with the wisemen visiting Jesus?
- What is the significance of gift giving at Christmas?
Who are the wisemen and what role do they play in the birth of Jesus?
Let’s first begin with what the Bible actually tells us by reading Matthew 2:1-12. Now, one of the reasons we need to go to the text first is because the first question you should ask yourself when studying the Bible is, “What does the text say?” Not, what do I think it says, or what does someone else say it says. But, “What does the text say?” This is one of the things I am going to teach you in the How to Study the Bible Like a Scholar class. It’s very simple and it really helps me catch a lot of things the Bible tells us.
So let’s read.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
So right away, we see Jesus is already born in Bethlehem.
Verse one begins with the word after. That means the wisemen did not go when the shepherds went. They went after Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It also tells us when … during the time of King Herod. The Herods are historical figures and history tells us when they were in charge. The Bible is very specific on details, locations, people and times.
We also don’t see that there were only 3 wisemen. People probably assume there are three because the gifts are gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the Bible doesn’t say. Not that it matters a lot, but sometimes we hear things so many times we assume they must be true. This is what reading the Bible and asking, “What does the text say?” helps us figure out. It’s all observational and helps us understand that theology much better.
We also know from scripture that they were from the East … probably Persia. They had to travel hundreds of miles to get to Bethlehem so this wasn’t a quick trip. In verse 2 they say they saw “His” star and have come for the sole purpose of worshiping Him.
They were not Jews and did not have the prophecy of the OT scriptures saying Jesus would be born in Bethlehem.
So they followed the star, which was a sign to them that a king had been born. No one else in the Bible reports seeing a star described by the wisemen. That would make sense because the Jews had the scriptures. Herod also asked the chief priests and teachers of the law where Jesus would be born, and they quoted Micah 5:2 which is repeated in Matthew 2:6.
So the star appears to be a sign specially for the magi so they know where to go to find and worship the king of the Jews.
Another indicator that this was after Jesus’ birth is when Herod orders that all of the male babies from 2 years and younger be killed (this is verse 16 of the same chapter so you have to keep reading to discover it). Remember, Herod asked the magi when they first saw the star, so it must have been within two years of them arriving in Jerusalem.
So this makes sense as to why they were not at the manger at Jesus’ birth.
What’s with the wisemen? Why are they such a big deal in the story about the birth of Jesus?
Even though the wisemen aren’t necessarily an accurate part of the manger scene, they are my favorite people in it (ok, besides Jesus, right). Think about it. They traveled between 800 and 900 miles to worship. To worship! That’s crazy! They brought gifts of great value. Not just monetary value, but value that expressed reverence and kingship to a baby. Jesus was not a man yet. He was a baby in diapers and they understood the magnitude of His birth so they traveled so far and brought the best of the best to a baby. This would have no doubt helped Joseph and Mary in regard to their situation because I’m not sure that they had much to live on. The Bible does not say.
Here’s a quote from Gotquestions.com:
“After seeing the star of Bethlehem, the magi traveled to Jerusalem to look for the Messiah. The question arises, how would Persian magi know about the Jewish Messiah? Undoubtedly, they would have been exposed to the writings of the Jewish prophet Daniel, who had been the chief of the court seers in Persia. Daniel 9:24–27 is a prophecy that gives a timeline for the birth of the Messiah. Also, they may have been aware of the words of the pagan prophet Balaam (who was from the town of Pethor on the Euphrates River near Persia) in Numbers 24:17. Balaam’s prophecy specifically mentions “a star” and “a scepter” rising out of Jacob.”
How amazing is that? The words and prophecies of Daniel who was taken captive by the Babylonians wrote in his prophecies about the coming Messiah and men from countries hundreds of miles away knew these prophecies and followed the star to the Son of God. Wow!
Theologians and historians believe the magi are astrologers who charted the stars, which is why God gave them a star to lead them to Jesus. The wisemen are another part of the story of Jesus that gives credibility to the dates, people and locations of the events surrounding Christ’s birth.
What is the significance of gift giving at Christmas?
Well, the wisemen brought gifts to Jesus so it’s safe to say that’s where the whole gift giving concept came in. However, gift giving isn’t a biblical mandate. No one is obligated to give gifts.
And gift giving doesn’t look the same for everyone. Some people give more, some less. I love giving gifts and I love it when people unwrap them and it makes them happy.
Personally, there’s always a struggle with gifts at Christmas because I do feel obligated to get some people gifts and that is not really the purpose in gift giving. The wisemen gave baby Jesus gifts because they had a purpose. They meant something.
Gold is obviously very valuable and it was given because the wisemen recognized Jesus as the king of the Jews. The Bible doesn’t go into detail as to why the wisemen brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, but tradition tells us there is significance to them.
Got Questions tells us “Frankincense is a white resin or gum.
It is obtained from a tree by making incisions in the bark and allowing the gum to flow out. It is highly fragrant when burned and was therefore used in worship, where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God.”
And finally, we have myrrh which is a product from Arabia. It is also obtained from a tree and used in embalming. Tradition shows this is symbolic of Jesus’ purpose … born to die.
The point of gift giving then was the same way it should be now … purposeful. In a rich country such as those in the West, it can be easy to lose sight of the quality and get fixed on the quantity or the obligation.
That’s why I appreciate thoughtful gifts. I’m not always the best gift giver because I don’t always know what people will like. So when I get something I wasn’t expecting but love, it’s so impressive and really exciting.
I will, however, research gift ideas for family and friends because I strive to get something they’ll enjoy or use. Obviously nothing as valuable as the wisemen gifts.
So, do we keep the wisemen in our manger scene? I say yes. I feel like it’s a great conversation piece, especially with our kids. We can bring in several points to the conversation such as the theology surrounding Jesus’ birth, the purpose of gift giving and God’s provision and guidance.
I think it’s good for Christians to know their theology and to make sure they know how to give an answer in case someone asks. I think of it this way: What if someone came to you and said, “You know the wisemen weren’t present at Jesus’ birth, right?”
What would you say if you didn’t know? That’s why a lot of Christians feel dumb or get caught off guard. But if you do know and someone comes into your home or challenges you with this question while you’re out and about, you’ll probably surprise them by knowing the answer and giving some depth to the Christmas story at the same time.
So, to you I say Merry Christmas.
Enjoy this time with your family and friends. Eat cookies, thank God for what He has done for us. I’ll be back next week with a wonderful and encouraging episode to get us kick started into the new year. I have some amazing guests already lined up for 2022 and God is just blessing this podcast with great people and amazing listeners like yourself.
Please don’t forget to leave a rating and/or review and I’ll catch you on the next one.